Water, sanitation and hygiene can transform girls’ lives. Aside from the obvious health benefits, girls can profit from increased access to education, greater economic security and better protection from violence and stigmas.
Plan International’s considerable research shows that women and girls are often the worst affected in communities that don’t have easy access to water and sanitation. Therefore, as world leaders convene in New York today to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will shape the development agenda for the next 15 years, it is exciting to see how these targets will make a significant difference to the world’s most marginalised girls.
Out of the 17 SDGs soon to be adopted, the one that stands out for the water and sanitation sector is SDG 6 – Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. Debate has been going on for some time among governments, NGOs and academics about how to achieve this – the task seems both daunting and inspiring!
At Plan International, we will be focusing on two targets for this SDG:
- Target 6.1: By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
- Target 6.2: By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.
Water, sanitation and hygiene doesn’t just contribute to SDG 6, it contributes to many, including gender equality (SDG 5), decreasing global inequalities (SDG 10), access to education (SD4) and health nutrition (SD3).
It’s exciting that women and girls are at the heart of the design of the SDGs. Their voices are also at the heart of the work we carry out alongside our partners to ensure universal access to water and sanitation.
Funding in the water and sanitation sector needs to increasingly focus on the most excluded, with women and adolescent girls at the heart, since they face the biggest burden and risks from lack of access. We need to understand the roles and responsibilities that women face in communities and help them tackle their specific concerns.
Menstrual hygiene is one area that cannot be underestimated. Girls face huge taboos, just for having a period, and the inability to deal with menstruation means girls miss school each month.
Increasing menstrual hygiene awareness, improving access to private and safe toilets at school, and supporting the provision of menstrual materials can make a huge, lasting change to the lives of girls and contribute towards breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.